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Sebastiani is barefoot; her dress, though pretty, is torn. Her broad face which reflects indigenous roots, is beautiful when it lights up at the prospect of a sale. Speaking barely above a whisper, she tells me the baskets cost fifteen cordobas (about $1.50). When I hand her the money, to my astonishment, she gives me all twelve. A basket, which takes an hour to make, sells for one Cordoba. ($0.11)

I spent the summer of 1996 in Nicaragua pursuing what still seems the most difficult piece I have ever undertaken. Difficult because I was studying Nicaragua's army of poor children, some with homes, others homeless, all of them working in order to survive.

These children, whether they shine shoes, sell sweets or even their bodies have much in common: poverty which keeps them undernourished and in ill health, a work week and working conditions that no north American union or non-union shop would tolerate, and a lack of education that keeps them in their place. Worse yet, a succession of governments talk of improving their lot and then either bungle the effort (as when Managua's mayor threaten to incarcerate children found working on the street) or lack the political will to carry through on the plans they formulate.

Holes in Their Shoes: Nicaragua's Army of Working Children was published in The World & I in August of 1998

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